THE Latin Church now recognises, among her principal festivals, that of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. The Orthodox Church also celebrates the Conception of S. Anne, "when she conceived the Holy Virgin, on the 9th of December," and this feast comes to us from a very remote age. S. Andrew of Crete, who lived in the seventh century, wrote a Canon and a Homily for the day; but the Orthodox Church, while celebrating it, simply does so to commemorate the fact, that the Blessed Virgin was born of sterile parents, and that by this birth S. Anne was delivered from her sterility. The Western Church observed the day for many ages on the same ground only. The word immaculate has no place in ancient, nay, nor in tolerably modern, missals; and in the prayers of that office there is not the remotest allusion to her having been conceived without original sin.
The new doctrine was first heard of in the West during the ninth century; but, as it was founded neither on Holy Scripture nor on tradition, it was received in very different manners. It found at least ns many antagonists as defenders; it was not confirmed by the Council of Trent, but reckoned simply as one opinion among different theological systems. The present Pope resolved to raise the question, and to subject it to a canonical deliberation.
In 1849, at the time of his flight to Gaeta, the thought first entered his mind: was it to occupy Christian spirits by this new doctrine, or to prove his ecumenical solicitude in the midst of the troubles that afflicted him on all sides? The Pope confided this so delicate question to his Cardinals, and to the most learned theologians about him,-men, for the most part, animated with the spirit of the Jesuits, Perroue especially: and then, having gathered the opinions, more or less in conformity with that which he desired to hear, as if he were moved by the supplications of all Christendom submitted to his chair, the Holy Father decided to proclaim as a dogma this doctrine, till then only admitted as a pious opinion, and to impose it on all the faithful adherents of the Latin Church, without permitting, for the future, the least discussion on the subject, at the risk of losing eternal salvation, and falling under the weight of anathemas. Painful as it must be for every orthodox Christian to moot questions so delicate, and to discuss matters which may affect the sentiment of profound veneration which the Oecumenical Church has always devoted to the Blessed Virgin, Mother of the Divine Word Who became flesh for us, nevertheless, since error dares to open her lying mouth, truth must also speak, to defend herself: if a false doctrine is openly preached by an erroneous Coavicion, the True Faith must not fail to recall the ancient and invariable truth.
On what, then, does Pius IX. found Ins new dogma of the Immaculate Conceptiosrof the Blessed Virgin,-that is to say, the belief that, although she wefe born of S. Joachim and S. Anne, in a natural manner, she was, nevertheless, by a superabundance of special grace, exempt from the original sin derived from Adam to all his race?
In the Bull, published on the 8th of December, 1854, and translated into Slavonic, and printed at Lvoff in 1855, these are the canonical proofs of this doctrine: (a) That the doctrine is revealed by GOD, and found in Holy Scripture. (b) That the Catholic Church has always accepted and defended this opinion; that it is stated in precious documents of sacred antiquity, and defended in councils by the holy Fathers and Doctors of the Chureh,-by the famous monastic orders, as well as by preceding Popes. (c) And lastly, that it ought to be accepted, because it is befitting to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as Mother of GOD, to be free from original sin; the rather that the honour and glory of the Blessed Virgin herself requires it in an especial manner.
Under the name of dogma, we comprehend such verities of religion as have been revealed to men by Holy Scripture and by holy tradition, and the knowledge of which cannot come to him by natural means. Every one is bound to accept them, if he desires to belong to the True Church of CHRIST, to have a true faith in GOD, and to attain eternal salvation. The dogmas which compose the body of Christian doctrine have been decided and explained by the Oecumenical Church; and in the third and sixth General Councils, it has been forbidden to bring forward new dogmas.
It results, that every new dogma, contrary to such a decree of the Church, and which is not clearly contained in Scripture or Divine Revelation, and only maintained by human ratiocination, arbitrary explanations, and casuistic suppositions, not only cannot be received as the truth, but must be rejected as an erroneous or heretical doctrine. Well, then: where in Holy Scripture is it said that, at the moment of her conception, the Blessed Virgin was free from original sin? The very defcnders of the new dogma admit that no such passage is to be found. Lambruccini and Guéranger, in the works which paved the way for the proclamation of the dogma, write thus:-" We allow, without evasion, that the Immaculate Conception is not to be deduced from revealed dogmas. It is true that Holy Scriptures do not explicitly affirm that this extraordinary privilege was awarded to Mary; on the contrary, in various passages of Sacred Writ we find, with great clearness, the ancient dogma of the Catholic Church, that all men, because springing from Adam, who sinned, are born in a state of sin."
But perhaps some exception has been made to this, the common law of all mortals, in favour of the Virgin Mary, chosen as she was to be the mother of the Divine SON. But the Divine Word is silent on this question: it makes only one exception in favour of the LORD JESUS CHRIST, Whom it names the only Sinless One. The Church repeats these words in the prayers which she addresses to the SAVIOUR, at High Vespers, in Pentecost: in beseeching Him to pardon our sins, she adds, "because Thou only and alone art without sin." In like manner, in the prayers for the dead, she expresses herself thus "For Thou only art without sin."
Thus this exclusion does not speak in favour of the new Papal dogma; since, in the express Word of GOD, and in the teaching of the Church, it is said, clearly and precisely, that JESUS CHRIST, alone, and exclusively alone, had accepted human nature in all things such as ours, yet without sin. How, then, is it possible to affirm, much more to affirm as a dogma, the same theory concerning the Blessed Virgin?
If, then, by the doctrine of even Western theologians, the hereditary sin of Adam derives itself to all the human race, as to a posterity which had its root in the same Adam when already in a state of sin, how can the Virgin Mary be reckoned among the descendants of Adam, while yet, at the moment of her Conception, she was free from the sin of Adam?
But there is yet another dogma in the Oecumenical Church which it is impossible to harmonise by any force with the new Roman dogma. The Divine Word assures us, that "if CHRIST died for all, then were all dead;" and that "as in Adam all die, even so in CHRIST shall all be made alive."
Taking her stand on these words, the Church of CHRIST teaches us, that the Passion and Death of JESUS CHRIST were suffered for all men; and that the resurrection and the life of all those who die in Adam depend on the Life and Resurrection of Him Who is the Author of our salvation, JESUS CHRIST, Man-GOD. Is, then, the Virgin Mary, or is she not, in the number of the all, for whom JESUS CHRIST died and rose again? Roman theologians can scarcely answer the question in the negative; and yet, how could Mary be of this number, if she had not participated in the sin of Adam by birth? Let the defenders of the new dogma give us some reply. They cite, it is true, some passages,-let us see with what force.
In quoting the words of the Book of Genesis (iii. 15,) "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed it shall bruise thy head," Pius IX. affirms that in these very expressions is contained the exemption of the Blessed Virgin from original sin, since the words "she shall bruise thy head" refer to her. According to this doctrine, she it is who wins the victory over the devil; she it is who crushes the head of the ancient dragon. We answer this new doctrine of the Pope by observing that the Vulgate translation is not faithful; that, as well in the original as in the LXX., the pronoun cannot be referred to the woman, but to the Seed of the woman,-that is, to the SAVIOUR, Who was to he born of the woman. It is thus that the Church has always explained, and still explains, the passage. It is in this sense that Perrone, ardent advocate as he is of the new dogma, understands the text.1 It is in this sense that the words must be explained, if we compare them with the passages in the New Testament which attribute the victory over the devil to CHRIST alone. (1 5. John iii. 8; Heb. ii. 14.) But the Pope, on the other hand, tells us that all was the work of Mary! Is not this to diminish the merits of our Redeemer? And yet it is proclaimed, ex Cathedrâ, by a mouth which is called, and calls itself, infallible!
One calls sadly to remembrance the prophetic words of the greatest of Popes: "If he who calls himself ecumenical head of the Church should fall into error, the whole Church would fall with him."
Another text which the Pope quotes in favour of his dogma is taken from the Song of Songs, iv. 7. "Thou art all fair, My love; there is no spot in thee." But these words have no reference to the Mother of GOD; they represent the mutual love between CHRIST and the Church. It is thus that they are explained by the Fathers and Doctors of the first ages of Christianity,-Origen, S. Cyprian, Theodoret, Eusebius, and others still nearer to the times of the Apostles. And tins is also the sense which is evidently involved by the words of S. Paul, who, writing to the Ephesians, thus speaks of the Church: CHRIST also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it, that He might present it to Himself a glorious Church, not having spot nor wrinkle, nor any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish." This expression of the Song of Songs, "There is no spot in thee," only signifies that the Church has been purified. Similar expressions are to be found in all the epistles of S. Paul: as, for example, when he speaks of the faithful among the Colossians, "That ye may be holy and without blame before Him in love;" although he could not have meant that these converts of his were free from all sin, and still less that they were exempt from original sin at the moment of their conception. See how false an explanation may be, when an arbitrary sense is affixed to a passage.
Western theologians further cite the angelic salutation, Ave Maria, gratiâ plena. These words of the archangel, say they, signify that Mary is an exhaustless fountain of Divine gifts: and they thence draw this conclusion,-that her conception must also be without stain, and exempt from original sin. But the Vulgate translation is in this place not faithful: the Greek word kecharitomene expresses properly that the holy Virgin was made a partaker of grace; and this term is also used in the Epistles relatively to the faithful in general, as for example, (Ephesians i. 6,) "To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved." Here the Vulgate translates that word gratificavit, and not fecit plenos gratiâ. Nevertheless, allow that the word were faithfully rendered by the Vulgate; grant that the archangel saluted Mary as full of grace; could she not have received this fulness after her birth, or, as many of the Fathers assert, at the very moment of the angelical salutation? and having once received it, have raised herself to the highest degree of holiness and purity, preserving herself intact from all voluntary sin till she became the Virginal Mother of the LORD, and by that means more precious than the Cherubim, and infinitely more glorious than the Seraphim, as our Eastern Church calls her?
Utterly unable to find any text of Holy Scripture which may seem to confirm his new dogma, Pius IX. has recourse to a supposition. He says that probably the Holy Fathers discovered this doctrine in the Word of God, since they apply to the person of S. Mary many expressions and figures of the Old Testament, which, according to the Pope, fully confirm this idea. Therefore they call her the Ark of Noah, the Ladder of Jacob, the Burning Bush, Solomon's Temple, the pure Dove, the Virginal Eve, the Lily among the Roses, the Virgin Earth from which the New Adam had His origin, the Celestial Paradise, Aaron's Rod, and the like.
In these figurative expressions, what possible allusion is there to the Immaculate Conception? The Orthodox Church bestows praises of still higher character in all the canticles and verses which are called dogmatic, and which are chanted at vespers. All our Church books are full of like symbols, to the glory of her who merited the supreme honour of becoming the Mother of the LORD. But in all her praises, in all the figures of the Old Testament which the Church, Greek as well as Latin, applies with one accord to S. Mary, is there the least allusion to her exemption from original sin at the moment of her conception?
If the Christian world has wreathed all these coronets for the Queen of Angels, it is only because she is the Mother of the SON of GOD; because in her the laws of nature itself were suspended, when, remaining a virgin, she nevertheless divinely became a mother; because by her means, as the Eastern Church expresses herself at Compline, the LORD of Angels is with us, and by the glorious Nativity of the GOD-Man Who tabernacled in her womb, human nature, once so abject, is united to Divine nature, always so sublime. And so we sing at Prime: "By what name shall we call thee, O thou that art resplendent with grace? Shall it be Heaven, because by thee the Sun of Righteousness bath risen upon us? Shall it be Paradise, because from thy womb the Flower of incorruptibility hath germinated? Shall it be Virgin, because thou remainest without spot of human corruption? Shall it be pure Mother, because thou didst carry in thine arms a SON Who is the GOD of all?" Such is, in concise terms, the Orthodox doctrine relative to the Mother of GOD; but can one find in it the least trace of any assertion of her Immaculate Conception?
It is, then, without foundation that the Papal epistle affirms that this doctrine had been constantly received and defended by the Oecumenical Church: when, in point of fact, till the ninth century it was completely unknown, not only in the East, but even in the West. S. Augustine, by a sentiment of veneration for the Blessed Virgin, would allow no discussion on original sin in so far as it concerned the Mother of GOD. It was only in the ninth century that Pachasius Ratbertus for the first time raised this question; and it was only in the eleventh century that a certain Abbat Guibert gave publicity to it in the Church of Lyons, and thereby excited S. Bernard against his doctrines. In the thirteenth century this dogma became the subject of dispute and discord between the Dominicans and Franciscans. After all this, can it be affirmed that the Oecumenical Church had ever accepted and defended the dogma of the Immaculate Conception? The Pope assures us, however, that the documents of sacred antiquity, both in the East and the West, prove his assertions. It would be curious to know what documents these are; hut the Pope in alluding to them quotes none of them. The Bishop of Wilna has made good this deficiency by publishing in his diocese, in 1855, the Papal epistle, together with a pastoral admonition on his part. He here quotes as his evidence: on the side of the Eastern Church,-(1) the Liturgies of S. James, S. Mark, and S. Basil the Great, because in these the Mother of GOD is commemorated as most holy, most pure, and singularly blessed. One ought to observe, however, that the Eastern Church does not employ the Liturgy of S. Mark. (2) That since the fifth century, the Conception of S. Anne, mother of the Blessed Virgin, was commemorated in the Eastern Church: that an Office had been composed for the day, and that many Oriental Bishops had preached sermons on the festival. On the part of the Western Church, the Bishop of Wilna cites as evidence an ancient calendar in marble, erected in the Church at Naples in the ninth century: this feast is there set down on the 9th of December.
But these documents rather make against, than in favour of the new dogma. In all the praises addressed during the whole course of the Liturgy to S. Mary, is there the least allusion to her purity from original sin? The Feast of December, if we may judge of it from the terms of its inscription on the marble Calendar, only proves that the ancient, undivided Church believed, as the Orthodox Church still believes, that S. Mary was conceived of barren parents, S. Joachim and S. Anna, in the same way as S. John the Forerunner, himself also born of aged parents, Zacharias and Elizabeth. Thus, in commemorating by a feast the Conception of the Virgin, as she does that of the Forerunner, the Oecumenical Church had not the remotest idea of asserting that she was exempt from original sin. In the same way, do any of the sermons pronounced by ancient Bishops-as, for example, S. Andrew of Crete-contain a single word on which the defenders of the new dogma can build their assertions?
If this doctrine had been accepted and defended by the Oecumenical Church, as the Pope asserts, his best evidence would have been either the Creeds, as well as the Office-books of the Eastern and Western Churches; but we there find nothing of the sort. Thus, if we accept the new dogma, all has to be done over again, down to the doctrine on original sin of the Council of Trent itself, which affirms that none of the sons of Adam is exempt from sin; otherwise all will bear witness ii future ages against the new dogma of Pius IX.
His epistle says further that this dogma had been defended in Councils, by holy fathers and doctors of the Church, by the famous Monastic orders, and by the Popes, his predecessors: and says all this without any proof, presuming that the whole Christian world would take it upon his word, as infallible chief of the Church. Nevertheless, neither the seven Oecumenical, nor the nine Provincial Councils, ever had, or could have had, any discussion on the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. The last of the Oecumenical Councils was held at Nicaea in 787, and till then no one had ever dreamt of raising such a question. It is noteworthy, however, that at the end of the fourth century, the Provincial Council of Carthage had treated the question of Baptism as indispensable for all infants, on account of the original sin which all had contracted from Adam: S. Augustine assisted at this Council, and had he been favourable to the new dogma, he would hardly have missed the opportunity of making an exception in favour of the Blessed Virgin. He, however, did not oppose himself to the 124th Canon, which says, basing itself on the Epistles of S. Paul:
"We also affirm, that if any one rejects the necessity of the Baptism of infants, or affirms that, though they are baptized for the remission of sins, yet they had part in the original sin of Adam, so as to necessitate their purification therefrom by the layer of regeneration, let him be anathema. For the words of the Apostle, 'As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,' ought not to be understood otherwise than as the Catholic Church throughout all the world explains it."
These words are of great importance: the Catholic Church, as if she had foreseen what would subsequently take place, decreeing that no other sense should be given to these words than that which had always been attached to them; and this without hint at any exception whatever. How happens it, then, that the Holy Father and his theologians, while protesting that their new doctrine has always been defended by Councils, forgets this Canon, clear and precise as it is, of that of Carthage?
In the course of ages, in the fifteenth century, when the subject came into discussion, the Council of Basle, in 1441, in its thirty-sixth session, had deliberated on this article, and had even pronounced a decision on it. But it is easy to see, by the very terms of this decision, that the Council did not intend to assert the dogma that the Blessed Virgin was exempt from original sin, but rather to teach that original sin had no active influence on her life, because by the effect of grace she attained to such a degree of sanctity as never to sin voluntarily. Therefore it was that, while testifying to the importance of the ancient feast of her Conception, this Council would not add the term Immaculate. These are the very words:
"We, having diligently inspected these anthorities and reasons, define that the glorious Virgin Mary, Mother of GOD, through the singular grace of the Divinity preventing and operating with her, was never actually subject to original sin, but was always free from all actual transgression. Renewing, furthermore, the institution of the celebration of her Conception, we ordain and enjoin that the said solemnity should be observed on the aforesaid day in all churches, monasteries, and convents of the Christian religion, under the name of The Conception."
In tins way the decision of the Council of Basle left tins question in suspense; and Pope Eugenius IV., in rejecting this Council, rejected also all its Canons. As to the Council of Trent, to which the defenders of the new dogma appeal, that also decided nothing; it even purposely expressed itself with vagueness, and refused to discuss the question. "Tins holy Synod declares, that, in treating of original sin, it does not intend to comprehend the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of GOD." 1f however, the Council acquiesced in the decision of Pope Sixtus IV., it only did so with reserve, adopting it as a mere opinion, and leaving it at liberty for every one to accept, or not to accept, as he thought fit. And yet this Pope himself had published a bull which obliged all the faithful to accept the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as beyond all controversy; he had even composed an office for the 8th of December on this hypothesis. But when this Bull excited fresh disputes, and set one order against another, then the Pope in 1483 published another, by which he conceded to either party the liberty of thinking as it pleased, on the condition that neither should condemn the other. Therefore it is that the Feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin, remained in the Office-books as before, under the simple title of Conceptio, without the addition of the adjective Immaculata.
Let us now examine who were the Fathers and Doctors of the Church that had taught this new dogma defended by the Latins, and what was their doctrine? Pius IX. simply advances the assertion, without furnishing any proofs; but the Bishops, in publishing his Bull, endeavoured to complete that which is defective in it. In their pastoral letters they name-(1) S. Irenaeus, S. Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Julius Africanus, S. Cyril of Jerusalem, and S. Epiphanius; and they affirm that these Fathers transmitted one to another the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. (2) They cite the very words of S. Augustine, and pretend that he professes the same opinion. (3) They appeal to the Fathers and Doctors of the Eastern Church,-S. Dionysius of Alexandria, S. Ephraim, S. Andrew of Crete, S. John Damascene, and S. Germanus, Patriarch of Constantinople,-all of whom, according to their assertion, defend the same doctrine.
And finally, among the Westerns, they name Paschasius Ratbertus and S. Anselm as having treated the subject. We reply to these four points.
1. The defenders of the new dogma, in speaking of the Bishops of the first four centuries, pretend indeed to refer to their writings, but from these writings quote not a sentence, not a single word which alludes to it. They merely prove that these Fathers were in the habit of comparing Eve and S. Mary: the first, as having conversed with the angel who was the tempter; the second with the Archangel, who was the bearer of the good tidings: the first as having been the cause of the fall of the human race; the second as having served to rehabilitate fallen man. Hence they gather that the above-named Fathers, from the very fact of this comparison, intended to assert the Immaculate Conception. But that this argument is entirely arbitrary, and has no manner of foundation, is a fact so palpable, that their words need not even refutation.
2. We will cite the exact words of S. Augustine. Speaking generally of voluntary sins as the consequence of original sin, this famous Father of the Western Church thus continues-"Except, therefore, the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honour of the LORD, I wish to enter into no discussion when writing concerning sin." This is the only place in the writings of that Father which the adherents of the new dogma allege as favourable to themselves, although in very deed they have nothing to do with the point. (1.) Augustine is not here speaking of original sin, but of actual: on this point one of the most zealous defenders of the Immaculate Conception, the Abbé Guéranger, agrees with me. "Doubtless," says he, "S. Augustine is here speaking of actual sin alone." Now there is nothing contrary to orthodox doctrine in the assertion that the Blessed Virgin was without actual sin. (2.) Notice that S. Augustine here makes no assertion whatever in the way of dogma; since, from respect to the Blessed Virgin, as Mother of the LORD, he refuses to treat the question at all. (3.) The same Father, who, more than any other, occupied himself with the question of original sin, says clearly, that not a single individual of the descendants of Adam is there who is not born in sin and slavery; that among the children of men there never was, there is not, and there never will be such an one. (De baptismo parvulorum, Lib. 2.) That JESUS CHRIST alone except, Who died for all, all mea, without one single exception, die for original sin. How is it possible, then, to reconcile a doctrine so clear and precise as that of S. Augustine with the assertion that he believed in the Immaculate Conception?
3. The evidence of the Fathers and Doctors of the Eastern Church speaks far more strongly against the defenders of the new dogma than in their favour. The passage which they cite from the letter of S. Dionysius to the heresiarch Paul of Samosata, only bears witness to one thing: the holy Father, speaking of the Mother of GOD, says that she "is the only blessed one," but not a word of her conception. The other Fathers quoted have, it is true, written much in praise of the blessed Virgin, and more especially S. John Damascene, the author of many canticles in her honour; but it is much to be desired that the adherents of Rome would go deeply into all these writings, as well as into the Office of the Blessed Virgin in general. They would then see that, though the orthodox Church, in her supplications and prayers to the Mother of GOD, is still more expressive and touching than the Latin, in glorifying her dignity, her virginal purity and incorruptibility, her powerful intercession to the SON for the salvation of the world; nevertheless, in all their canticles of praise, there is not one idea in favour of the new Roman dogma.
4. As to the passages cited from Paschasius Rathertus, and S. Anselm of Canterbury, they also prove nothing. It is true indeed that Paschasius, who lived at the end of the ninth century, may be reckoned the first who expressed an opinion on the non-participation of S. Mary in original sin. But if attention be paid to the work which appears to contain this opinion, if the words from which it seems to be stated be analysed, and if further it be observed that in the passage quoted neither the word conceptio nor immaculata is to be found, all this will bring us to the conclusion that Paschasius, when he speaks of the Blessed Virgin as incorruptam, incontaminatam, at ab omni peccato originali immunem, did not mean by these terms that she was exempt in the moment of her conception from original sin, but that this original sin, as we have already said, had no active influence on the holy life of the Virgin, blessed among women, who by an unique exercise of the grace of GOD, never sinned voluntarily, and became the virginal mother of the SON of GOD. The title of the work of Paschasius is De perpetuâ virginitate Maria at de ejus parturitione. The words on which the adherents of Rome base their arguments are these: Eximiae pietatis honorem et decus virtutis beatissimae Virginis pudicitiam praedicare incorruptam et incontaminatam, at ab omni contagione prima originis alienam. Where, then, are the precise terms which express the Immaculate Conception?
S. Anselm of Canterbury, who lived at the end of the eleventh century, and who was considered as the organ and expression of the Roman doctrine of his time, expresses himself thus in his book, De conceptu Virginali: "It was fit that the Conception of THAT MAN should take place of a most pure Virgin; it was fit that that Virgin should be illustrious with the greatest purity that can be imagined under GOD, that Virgin to whom GOD the FATHER proposed thus to give His only Begotten SON Whom, born of His Essence, equal to Himself, He loved as Himself, that He, one and the same, should be the common SON of GOD the FATHER and of the Virgin." These are time only words of Anselm which are actually cited by the defenders of the new dogma, and on which they found their assertion that it was already known to the writers of the eleventh century. But who does not see that the Saint is here speaking of the Conception of the SON of GOD at His Incarnation, and not of the Conception of the Virgin Mary; and that Anselm, in naming His most pure Mother, understands by that expression her holy life and perpetual virginity, without the slightest allusion to her Immaculate Conception? On the other hand, we can quote a passage of the same writer which clearly shows that he did not entertain that opinion. In his dialogue with the monk Boso, on the subject Cur Deus Homo, Anselm being questioned by Boso how GOD, Who is only holy, and only without sin, could take human nature of S. Mary, who herself was conceived in the sin of Adam, answers: that the Only-Begotten SON of GOD, become man for the reconciliation of sinners, Himself, beyond all doubt, had no taint of sin; neither ought it to disquiet us if we cannot conceive in what way He took upon Himself humanity without sin, deriving it from human nature which was not without sin. Here, then, Anselm must have made some allusion to the question of the Immaculate Conception, had he really held that doctrine. [The writer might have added that S. Anselm, in a subsequent part of the tract, expressly says, that the Blessed Virgin was purified from sin by JESUS CHRIST.] It is then without foundation that the Pope affirms his doctrine touching the Immaculate Conception to be that of the Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church, their writings, as well as the traditions of past ages, prove the contrary; and in advancing such an opinion, he must surely have counted on very little reading on the part of his flock. Till the end of the eleventh century, none of the Fathers of the Eastern Church, nor the Doctors of the West, had touched on the subject. Even on the avowal of Cardinal Lambruschini, "The Fathers of the first ages of Christianity preserved a profound silence relative to the Conception of the Blessed Virgin." We find no allusion to it in the writings of S. Clement of Rome, S. Ignatius, S. Polycarp, S. Irenaeus, S. Justin Martyr, and many others: on the contrary, all the Doctors and Fathers of the Church, even those both in earlier and later ages, confess unanimously and manifestly in all their writings, that no man can be born without original sin, and that JESUS CHRIST alone is without sin, as having been born after a divine fashion by the operation of the HOLY GHOST: and they confess it in a manner which it is utterly impossible to reconcile with the new Papal dogma.
Thus, for example, S. Ambrose, in commenting on the Prophet Isaiah, says: "No human creature, the offspring of man and woman, is exempt from original sin: He only was not subject to this sin Who was born without a human father of the Virgin by the operation of the HOLY GHOST." Eusebius of Amasea expresses himself with even yet more precision in his second sermon on the Nativity: "None is exempt from original sin, not even the Mother of the Redeemer of the world: JESUS only is alien from the law of sin, although born of a woman who was herself under the law of sin." In the same way we find in the writings of Tertullian expressions as precise on the universality of original sin: (De praescript. Cap. iii.), so in S. Cyprian, in S. Epiphanius, in S. Gregory Nyssen, S. Athanasius, S. Hilary of Poitiers, S. Basil the Great, S. John Chrysostom, and others. Is it possible that the anathemas lately pronounced by Pope Pius IX. against those who will not accept the dogma invented by him in the nineteenth century, extends itself also over all Christian antiquity, over all the ancients and Holy Fathers and Doctors of the Church?
But the Pope says further that this doctrine has been accepted and defended before him by the most famous monastic orders, as well as by his predecessors; but history asserts the contrary. It is true that, at the end of the twelfth century, some monks of the Diocese of Lyons decided out of their own head to accept the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, and to institute a feast on the occasion. But, at the same moment, one of the most zealous promoters of the honour of the Blessed Virgin, S. Bernard, protested against the novelty. He addressed to his monks an epistle in which he explained categorically: that this doctrine was altogether unknown to the Church; that such a novelty was too bold, injurious to Christian antiquity, contrary to the true honour due to the Blessed Virgin, and dangerous in its consequences, as the fruits of ignorance, of misbelief, and, in brief, as heretical. This long epistle of S. Bernard is of the greatest importance as regards the actual question. [And the more so when we consider that S. Bernard was not writing, as is somewhat vaguely stated here, about the Immaculate Conception, but only on the institution of a Festival in honour of the Conception. The defenders of the new dogma, while knowing S. Bernard's opposition to it, argue that he specifically submits his own sentiments to the Holy See. He does no such thing: he submits them to Papal decision so far as the institution of a Festival was concerned which, though he did not approve it, yet, if the Pope so ordered, he would accept. But as to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, it never seems to have entered his mind that the Holy See would accept that; and accordingly he says not one word of submission to its decision on that ground.] "I am terrified," says S. Bernard, "when I lean that some of you have expressed a desire of introducing a new Festival, hitherto unknown in the Church, that does not approve itself to reason, and cannot be justified by ancient tradition. Are we then more leaned and more pious than our fathers? It is a most dangerous presumption to take in hand that which their wisdom never agitated. But you will tell me that it is the duty of all to glorify to the utmost of their ability the Mother of the LORD. True: but it is also to be observed that the glorification of the Queen of Heaven demands a particular power of discernment. This royal Virgin has no need of mistaken honour while she possesses such true grounds of red glory. Glorify the purity of her earthly frame in the holiness of her life; admire the riches of her graces, adore her divine SON; exalt her who conceived without concupiscence, and brought forth without suffering. What must be added? You say that we ought to celebrate the Conception which preceded her glorious Nativity; because if the Conception had not preceded, the Nativity could never have been glorified. But what if for the same reason we were to demand the same celebration for the Parents of the Blessed Virgin, or of her grandparents, or their parents?"
After so decisive a testimony against the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, how can it be said that this doctrine was unanimously received by the Western Church? History assures us that, even in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, it was the subject of perpetual disputes between the monastic orders. The order of Dominicans took every possible pains to prevent the introduction of this innovation; in spite of all the efforts of the Franciscans, the Conception remained without the addition of the adjective Immaculate. Thomas Aquinas, the angelic doctor, would not accept it, and has expressed his opinion in these words:-"When we celebrate the Festival of the Conception of S. Mary, we do not intend to say that she was exempt from original sin when she was conceived, but only that she was sanctified, although the moment of her sanctification be unknown; so that the Festival ought rather to be called that of the Sanctification than of the Conception." In another place the same Thomas says, "Since the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived from the matrimonial union of her parents, it follows that she was conceived in original sin." Others also of the most famous doctors of the Latin Church have expressed themselves in the same way. More especially we may refer to S. Bonaventura, Bellarmine, and the Master of the Sentences. Instead of the word immaculate, they had begun to use that of miraculous, no doubt attaching to it the same idea with which the orthodox Church at the present moment celebrates the Festival: that S. Mary was born of sterile parents. Where then are the famous monastic orders, who, if we are to believe Pius IX., preserved and defended this doctrine? Only, very late, among the Franciscans: they received it in the fifteenth century from one of their colleagues, Duns Scotus, (+ 1308,) called among the Latins the most Subtile Doctor. He first, when professor in the University of Paris, began to teach that the Blessed Virgin Mary, even in her conception, was exempt from the sin of Adam. Nevertheless, however subtile this doctor might be, before he advanced this hypothesis, he had expressed himself in these terms:--"Was the Virgin Mary exempt from sin in her Conception, or was she not exempt? GOD only knows." His hypothesis on the Immaculate Conception is as follows:-"I say that GOD could so order it that the Blessed Virgin never participated in original sin; He could also so order it that at the first moment of her Conception she was liberated from this sin; could also so order it that she was not purified from it till a certain time had elapsed."
However feeble be the foundation on which Puns Scotus based his doctrine; however strange be the reasoning which advances from the possible to the real, the spirit of his age willingly accepted his teaching. The theological faculty of Paris was well disposed to any novelty in religion; the Franciscans accepted the doctrine with transport, proud that a distinguished theologian of their own order should have advanced under a new point of view the worship of the Virgin: visions, miracles, and legends followed without number, in support of the innovation. In vain did the Bernardines and Dominicans oppose the new teaching-the Sorbonne triumphed. All those who opposed the doctrine of Duns Scotus were persecuted, driven from their theological chairs in the universities, deprived of the right of being confessors and doctors, even shut up in prisons, and became the objects of popular sarcasm.
The case is the same with the appeal made by Pius IX. to his predecessors, who, he tells us, preserved and defended by all possible means this doctrine as ancient and universal. Since it was completely unknown to the ancient Church of S. Bernard, none of the previous Popes could either contradict or defend this doctrine; and the Bull Ineffabilis therefore cites none of their testimonies. We might, however, quote two of the greatest Roman Pontiffs, S. Leo and S. Gregory, in opposition to the doctrine. The former expresses himself thus:-"The SON of the Blessed Virgin, Who was not a stranger to human nature, was a stranger to sin, and was alone born without sin." The second says much the same thing: "The heavenly FATHER put all His complacency in the Only-Begotten SON, Our Redeemer, because He found in Him no sin."
When after S. Bernard the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception became a matter of controversy and encountered strong opposition, its very novelty attracted to it the attention of some of the Popes: Innocent II., Innocent III., Honorius III., Urban IV., Innocent V., and Clement V. But why does not Pius IX. mention them in his Bull? Because every one of these Popes opposed his new dogma; although he cites Paul V., Gregory XV., Alexander VII. as defenders of the doctrine; but then these lived in the seventeenth century, when Rome, under the immediate influence of the Jesuits, submitted itself to a rapid course of innovation. Secondly, even from the decision of these very Popes, as, for example, that of Gregory XV., who forbade the addition of any adjective to the word conception, and even from the system of theology which had appeared in these last centuries, it is clear that in the Roman Church, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was an opinion, and an opinion only.
We ask then-on what is the new Latin dogma founded, contrary as it is to Holy Scripture, Tradition, History? Surely, On nothing. Pius IX., however, has recourse to a different kind of proof. According to him, reason itself demands the acceptation of this doctrine: 1. Because it is suitable that the Virgin, as the firstborn daughter of GOD, (Glories of Mary, vol. i. p. 69) as the restorer of the human race, as Mother of the SON of GOD, should be exempt from original sin. And this, because, says he, it would be impossible that the SON of GOD should be born of her if she had participated in this sin. 2. It is necessary to accept the new dogma, because the glory of the Virgin requires that the case should so be.
Although this kind of argument is, from its very nature, undeserving of a serious reply, yet the Papal advocates, and especially Liguori, endeavour to give a kind of likelihood, in the popular mind, to this sort of proof, and thereby to arrive at their aim: the acceptation of the dogma by the Christian world as an irrefragable truth. We are bound, then, on our side, to turn our attention to the argument, however strange it seems, in order that we may prove such a reason, or rather such a sophism, to be the mere fancy of a judgment, rash in itself, and presumptuously intruding into the mysteries of GOD, and contrary to faith and to reason.
As to the pretended necessity of the case, the Word of GOD furnishes us with a ready answer: "Who bath known the mind of the LORD, or who hath been His counsellor?" And so writes Isaiah: "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." The new dogmatists ought to have called to mind these divine words, and not-frail counsellors I-have endeavoured to penetrate into the depths of the counsels of GOD, more especially in regard to a mystery so sublime as the Incarnation of the SON. Surely they should have accepted with devout faith that and that alone which is revealed in the Gospels, without the addition of private judgment, without explaining that which the HOLY GHOST willed not to discover to the Apostles. So rash an intervention is always in opposition to GOD, and often brings its own punishment, whether by demonstrating its ignorance, or by falling into error. Here, both one and the other are the result.
It is fitting, say they, that the Blessed Virgin should be exempt from original sin, because she is the firstborn daughter of GOD, that is to say, because GOD created her in a manner different from that employed in the formation of other mortals. Liguori, in quoting the text of Ecclesiasticus, "He created me in the beginning before the world," applies it to her; and Pius IX. does the same thing. Can this assertion be called by any other title than that of ignorance? The son of Sirach speaks of the Eternal Wisdom, and Liguori applies his saying to the Virgin. To say that her creation, and that of the rest of mankind, are utterly different, is it not to separate her from all humanity? is it not a heresy? But she must, they add, have been exempt from the sin of Adam, because she is the restorer of the human race. A new heresy, which infringes on the merits of the REDEEMER, the Only-Begotten SON of GOD, our LORD JESUS CHRIST. It is not Mary, but CHRIST, Who is the restorer of fallen humanity. "CHRIST," saith the Apostle, "hath redeemed us from the curse of the Law, being made a curse for us." "The Blood of JESUS CHRIST," saith S. John, "cleanses us from all sin." "There is one Mediator between GOD and Man," saith S. Paul again, "the Man CHRIST JESUS."
Grant that S. Mary was, in a manner peculiar to herself, freed from original sin, and that she thus became, as Liguori affirms, the restorer of the human race; and what do you teach, but that the Passion and Death of our Loan were not indispensable for the salvation of mankind? that the rehabilitation of fallen humanity, and its deliverance from the curse of the law, its purification from the pollution of sin, and its pacification with GOD, might have been effected in another way. See to what a blasphemous conclusion the new dogma leads! See how it detracts from the expiatory merits of the REDEEMER!
Liguori further asserts-and he has Pius IX. acquiescing-that the Blessed Virgin must have been exempt from original sin, because on no other terms could she have become the Mother of the SON of GOD, Himself exempt from all sin, because a tree is known by its fruits. Such an argument is easily reduced to an absurdity. If we allow this much, it follows that SS. Joachim and Anna, parents of the Blessed Virgin, and their parents again and theirs, up to their very remotest ancestry, must have been exempt from the sin of Adam; we must remount to the first man, if we are to accept their version of the saying, that a tree is known by its fruits. Should we not thus annihilate the history of the Blessed Virgin's genealogy, among whose ancestors we find some notorious sinners?
Further, another question arises-how could she, even though immaculate, if attached to the lowest stages of humanity, have become the Mother of GOD, and, while a creature, have given birth to the Creator? Would it not have been more "fitting" still that she should have had nothing in common with a race of sinners, descendants of the same Adam? by consequence, that she should have had no connexion with the human race? Such are the results that naturally flow from the theories of Liguori! He would fain, by his own unassisted endeavours, penetrate the mysteries of GOD: he is not afraid to attribute to the Divine Mary, as manifested in the Redemption of man, his own pains and conveniences: he forgets that JESUS CHRIST, even when born of Mary, ceased not to be GOD; that He was born true man, and yet without sin, because, filled with divine grace, she brought Him forth without a human father, by the operation of the HOLY GHOST.
They affirm, lastly, that it is necessary for the glory and honour of the Blessed Virgin herself to have her Conception immaculate. We are far from the idea of Protestants, who, while they respect in the person of the Mother of Gov her virtues, her humility, her submission to the Divine Will, see not, and will not see, her exaltation above all creatures celestial and terrestrial, and her mediation between her SON and the faithful. We agree entirely so far as this; that our duty is to glorify, by every possible means, her whom the Almighty has invested with majesty, and whom, according to the Gospel, all generations must call blessed: we agree that this is a holy work, and the duty of every Christian. This the Orthodox Church does: since the earliest ages of Christianity she has glorified the Blessed Virgin, naming her more precious than the Cherubim, and infinitely more glorious than the Seraphim; supplicating her as the most powerful mediatress with the LORD, and the mightiest advocate of the Christian world, as a token of her profound devotion to Mary, the Orthodox Church gives her image the place next to that of the SAVIOUR, in order that the faithful may be reminded of her powerful intercession with her SON. The Priest, before the commencement of the Liturgy, in preparing the Holy Mysteries, names the Blessed Virgin as the head of all saints, and for that reason, when the symbolic immolation of the Divine Lamb has taken place,
he takes from the second prosphora a particle in honour of the Virgin, and places it on the disk at the right of the Lamb, while he pronounces the words, At Thy right hand did stand the Queen.
In commemorating the principal events of her life, the Orthodox Church glorifies them by particular feasts, as the Nativity, the Presentation, and the Assumption. Under the conviction that the Blessed Virgin, as mother of the Most High GOD, always enjoys a maternal access to her SON and her GOD, and prays incessantly for the Christian world, the Orthodox Church terminates nearly all her prayers by "commemorating the most holy, undefiled, excellently laudable Mother of GOD, and ever-Virgin:" as a proof how powerful is her intercession with GOD, and how capable of propitiating His favour. But while thus glorifying S. Mary, the Orthodox Church has never entered on the question whether her Conception was immaculate, and has even considered the question itself unsuitable to the dignity of the Queen of Angels.
If this Holy Virgin descended from Adam the sinner, was conceived as all his other descendants in original sin, and, in spite of this, profiting by the gifts of grace, by constant watchfulness over herself, attained to such a height of virtue as was never reached by any other mortal, and preserved the purity of her heart from every illicit thought, and all voluntary sin, so as to surpass the angels themselves in purity and sanctity: does not all this constitute a treasury of merits personal to herself; and which might render her worthy to be chosen as Mother of the SON of GOD? But if, according to the new doctrine, she were always exempt from sin, nay it not be said that less care was necessary to attain that holiness and that virtue, and that they were rather the natural consequence of her inclination to good than the effects of her free-will. In this case the new Roman dogma would surely diminish rather than increase the honours of the Divine Virgin.
It must be added that the defenders of the dogma, obliged to conciliate it with the decree of Trent on original sin, have invented an explanation at variance with the pious veneration due to S. Mary. They enter into scholastic subtilties, and have invented an arbitrary hypothesis, never hitherto received by science, which they apply to the Conception of the Virgin. They say that the conception of man is double; the one that active conception which consists in the formation of the body, the other that passive conception which is probably the union of the soul to the body when the latter has already received its organisation: these two conceptions according to their teaching are separated by a certain period of time. According to them, therefore, the first conception even with regard to S. Mary, was not exempt from sin; the second was, properly speaking, immaculate, because her soul at the moment of its union with the body, was, by the power of sanctifying grace, completely exempt from the least shadow of sin.
We ask then, if sophisms so subtle and scholastic, one might even say, childish, and which have no place in the science of physiology and psychology, can be reconciled with sincere devotion to the Blessed Virgin, or with her glory? Is it possible to found on such a fancy, the dogma which the adherents of the Papacy defend? If we grant it, Mary was conceived and was not conceived in original sin, conceived as regards the body, not conceived as regards the soul. It is thus that in pursuing the shadows of truth, they fall into self-contradiction-mentita est iniquitas sibi.
For our own parts, let us be thankful to GOD our SAVIOUR that we are by His grace in the fold of the orthodox Church. Her pastors feed us with sound doctrine, and hand down to us the faith in all its purity without the least change or addition. In the Latin Church, what is there that is certain and stable? That which during the space of many ages was said to be sufficient to salvation, is now insufficient, and requires additions: and their present faith may in like manner, in the lapse of time, require fresh complements to its entireness. Dogma itself is not exempt: its change and even the invention of new doctrines depend on circumstances, and are so much the more easily brought to pass, because as the Roman Pontiff regards himself as infallible in matters of faith, he acknowledges no limits to his enterprises, neither the Word of GOD, nor sacred tradition, nor history. Nor does the Pope find more difficulty in the acceptation than in the invention of his new dogmas, because the people is accustomed to receive at once as a divine message whatever he pronounces ex cathedrâ, without examining whether it be, or be not, conformable to the doctrine of the Church. Ask a common layman what he understands by the term Immaculate Conception? For the most part such an one will answer,-It means that the Virgin Mary conceived the SON of GOD by the HOLY GHOST, or-It means that the Virgin Mary was conceived by the HOLY GHOST: and this is the interpretation they put upon it. Priests for their part, remain mute in consequence of their adulation for the Holy See: they excuse everything in the laity so that the dogma be accepted without opposition. It is the Jesuits who play the principal part in this affair as the chief instruments of the Papal power; ready to sacrifice everything, even that which is most sacred, to their own interests; and in thus maintaining the actual dogma, they are rendering the greatest service to the Pope. In exalting, although not in reality, devotion towards the Blessed Virgin, their chief aim is to get the women on their side. No long time since, a Jesuit thus wrote,-Let but the women be with us, and we are masters of the situation.
What then could have excited the present Pope to invent a new dogma in the nineteenth century, and to anathematise those who will not do so? Was it the conviction of its truth, or zeal for the salvation of others? or the greater glory of the Blessed Virgin? No; his Bull explains his views differently. In congratulating himself on the success of his enterprise, the Pope hopes "that since he has succeeded in proposing and deciding on a point connected with the honour of the Virgin, she for her part will extend the Roman Church to all nations, even to the ends of the world, and that all Christian Communions will have recourse to her, so that there may be one fold and one shepherd." These are the views dear to the heart of Pius IX.; this is the aim of all the efforts of Roman Pontiffs; and he does not consider that the very spirit of innovation received from his predecessors and more deplorably imitated by him, was the cause of the schism by which the Church of GOD is rent.